- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Washington Nationals made their first trade deadline deal of the 2011 season Tuesday night, getting the right-handed power bat they’d been looking for to augment their predominantly left-handed bench in outfielder Jonny Gomes from the Cincinnati Reds. In order to acquire Gomes, along with cash, the Nationals parted with two minor leaguers: outfielder Bill Rhinehart and left-hander Chris Manno.

They also secured themselves a chance at a compensation draft pick this offseason if they decide to let Gomes walk. He is projected to be a Type B free agent.

“He’s an experienced right-handed hitter who really has great success against left-handed pitching,” Rizzo said. “He’s a power guy. He’ll get on base, he’ll take his walks. He can get on base, he can drive in a run — and most importantly, he can change the game with one swing of the bat.”

Gomes, 30, has played parts of nine major league seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Reds. The right-handed hitter has a career .244 average and .330 on-base percentage and has spent the majority of his career in either left or right field.  He also has power — crossing the 20-homer threshold three times in his career — and is a career .281 hitter against lefties, which makes him a logical fit to platoon with the left-handed former teammate Laynce Nix.

“What I love about Jonny is [he] continues to take on the challenge and that’s the name of the game,” Nix said. “That’s part of the makeup and that’s part of not getting down when no one believes in you. He’s a guy that will be infectious in the clubhouse for taking on challenges and going 100 percent and not thinking about the negatives. You can say [offensively] he’s an either-or guy, but he’s an either guy a lot of the time.”

The Nationals will announce a corresponding roster move Wednesday and it could mean the end of left-handed pinch-hitter Matt Stairs’ tenure in a Nationals uniform. Stairs, who has started just eight games this season, is hitting .154 with 10 hits in 74 plate appearances. Gomes looks to get a decent amount of at-bats against left-handed pitching, which would also appear to take playing time away from right-handed utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. — but Hairston is versatile enough to play almost any position on the field.

“He’s a presence on the bench, he’s a presence in the lineup and I’m sure [Nationals manager Davey Johnson’s] going to utilize him to his fullest,” Rizzo said. “I envision him getting a lot of at-bats against left-handed pitching for sure. If there’s an accelerated role beyond that, we’ll have to see.”

In a press conference with reporters in Cincinnati, Gomes said he looked at the trade as more of a “clean slate,” than a “fresh start,” but noted that it was a compliment that another team wanted his services and he was looking forward to being reunited with Nix.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a fresh start,” Gomes said. “It’s not like I’m a rookie. I’m not going to go over to the Nationals, go to the NL East and people are going to pitch me different like they’ve never seen me before. I do have a history and I do have a label.”

Despite the Nationals strengthening a position with little depth, they are still expected to be busy with the July 31 trade deadline looming. The Nationals are still looking for a leadoff-hitting center fielder and sources have told The Washington Times that the Twins’ Denard Span, Rays’ B.J. Upton, Cardinals’ Colby Rasmus and Angels’ Peter Bourjos are all on the team’s wish list.

In order to acquire Gomes, though, the Nationals had to part with 26-year-old Rhinehart, who was hitting .283 with 59 RBI this season at Double-A, and Manno, who was doing a superb job as a reliever for Single-A Hagerstown. In 43 1/3 innings the 22-year-old had allowed 20 hits and struck out 69.

Rhinehart was an 11th round pick in the 2007 draft and a career .261 hitter over all levels of the Nationals minor league system. Manno was drafted twice by the Nationals — once in 2009 in the 38th round and again last year in the 26th round — and had a 1.47 ERA with 13 saves in 46 appearances between the Gulf Coast League last year and Hagerstown this season.

“We thought it was a good, prudent move in giving up part of our strength and our depth in the minor leagues,” Rizzo said. “Really, that’s what you draft players for, either for them to perform in the big leagues for you or to help in a trade with another team.”

Gomes is expected to be in Washington on Wednesday and in uniform in time for the Nationals’ 7:05 p.m. game with the Marlins.

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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